What Does Indian Giver Mean?

Indian Giver Meaning

Definition: Someone who gives a present to another person and then asks that person to return it.

Origin of Indian Giver

This expression is pejorative in nature. It is a name one can call a person as an insult when that person asks for the return of a gift.

Sources point to colonization as the origin of this expression. White settlers and explorers in America often misunderstood Native American culture. For example, Native Americans were accustomed to trading goods as part of their economy. White Americans were more used to trading money.

what is a indian giver Therefore, if a Native American tried to trade goods, white Americans may have interpreted it as a gift. When the Native Americans received nothing in return for their trade, they may have asked for it back. White Americans considered this rude, despite the fact that they were the ones who were trying to accept goods for nothing in return.

Regardless of the accuracy of this theory, white Americans held a stereotype of Native Americans as asking for gifts back. The expressions Indian gift and Indian giver both were in use by the 1800s.

This expression is less popular than it was at its peak, perhaps because it is viewed as insensitive and based on false stereotypes. It is always used as a pejorative, and it can be seen as offensive.

Examples of Indian Giver

what is an indian giver In the example below, a husband tells his wife about a fight he had with his brother.

Kip: Do you remember that my brother gave me his old motorcycle as a gift last year?

Caroline: Of course. Why?

Kip: Well, he just asked for it back! He said he needed to sell it to make money to pay rent. Can you believe that? I hate Indian givers.

Caroline: That is upsetting. What are you going to do?

More Examples

This expression is not common in modern news publications because of its racial overtones.

This excerpt discusses the origin of the term in an article about cultural appropriation.

  • “Indian Giver” was a term used by Europeans, Iserhoff says, referring to the indigenous economic system based on bartering and gift exchange. It also references the potlatch — a traditional gift-giving celebration practiced by certain indigenous groups, which was a focus of assimilation policies in Canada and the United States throughout the late 1800s. –Toronto Star

This excerpt is also talking about the origins of the term.

  • While Indian giver might seem more obviously racist (you certainly wouldn’t hear anyone using such a phrase in the office), there are plenty of other phrases that you might use every day that have racist/prejudice origins. –Huffington Post


The phrase Indian giver is a pejorative term for someone who asks for the return of a gift.